Status Report

AIP FYI # 101: Perspective: House FY 2005 NSF Budget Bill

By SpaceRef Editor
July 26, 2004
Filed under , ,

Last week’s approval by the House Appropriations Committee of the FY
2005 VA, HUD and Independent Agencies Appropriations Bill is only
the second time in about the last decade when a cut was recommended
in the budget for the National Science Foundation. Under this bill,
the foundation’s budget would be reduced by 2% or $111 million in
the next fiscal year.

It had been predicted that this was going to be a difficult year for
the appropriators, and the proposed cut in NSF funding was not
completely surprising. Ironically, it comes at a time when support
for, and interest in, science and technology are strong on Capitol
Hill. While the appropriations committee had almost $92 billion to
spend on the departments and agencies in this bill, it was not
enough. NASA funding would be cut by 1.5%. The EPA would be
reduced by 7.3%. The Department of Housing and Urban Development
would receive essentially flat funding. While the Veterans
Administration received an increase of $1.9 billion for medical
services, veterans’ groups had calculated that $3.0 billion in
additional funding was needed.

Looking back at previous issues of FYI through 1996, there appears
to be only one time when appropriators recommended a cut in NSF
funding. In 1999, House appropriators included a 0.7% reduction in
the NSF’s budget. Rep. James Walsh (R-NY) was also then the
chairman of the VA, HUD appropriations subcommittee, and his words
in 1999 would fit well today: “We have reduced funding for the
National Science Foundation by over $200 million. That is the last
thing that I wanted to do in this bill but, again, the balance that
we had to strike was very, very fragile, very, very difficult. We
literally are borrowing from Peter to pay Paul here.” During House
floor debate on that bill in September 1999, Walsh assured Rep. Vern
Ehlers (R-MI) that the subcommittee knew the plight it had placed
the foundation in, and that the subcommittee would try to provide
additional funds. Walsh told Ehlers, however, that “I cannot make
any ironclad assurances.” The Senate later recommended an increase
of 7% for NSF. The final conference figure was an increase of
6.5%. “I can’t believe it, I just can’t believe it,” were Senator
Barbara Mikulski’s (D-MD) words about this positive outcome.

The good outcome in 1999 was due to the appropriators’ diligence in
locating unused housing funds and by using an accounting technique
known as advanced funding. Then-director of the National Science
Foundation, Rita Colwell, explained that the appropriators had
“demonstrated extraordinary leadership and a clear understanding of
the importance of investing in science and engineering.” Colwell
said that the support of major figures in both the House and Senate
was instrumental in securing the increase. Also important was the
role that then-director of the Office of Management and Budget, Jack
Lew, played.

While the situation this year has parallels to that in 1999, there
are differences. The United States is actively engaged in a war
this year, and the economy is different. However, this year the
control of the White House and Senate and House of Representatives
rests in one party, which should theoretically make it easier to
craft a strategy. Then, as now, the active support that
constituents demonstrate for the National Science Foundation will
play a decisive role in shaping the budget in the new fiscal year.

Richard M. Jones

Media and Government Relations Division

The American Institute of Physics

(301) 209-3094

SpaceRef staff editor.